WM PPV Countdown: #3 – WrestleMania XX

WrestleMania XX was a historic night for many reasons.

Not only was it the twentieth edition of what had now become a wrestling milestone, it was a celebration of a dream that Vince McMahon had conjured up twenty years earlier. It was a night for WWE to showcase what the company had grown into from its beginnings as a territory in the northeastern United States decades earlier. It was a night to come back to Madison Square Garden, WWE’s home arena, to put on a show for their loyal New York audience who had watched the company grow to unimagined heights.

Twelve matches were promoted for the night’s card, with nearly half a dozen of them worthy of being a main event and the final match of the evening in their own right. But two of them in particular ended up being more final than anyone had originally thought. WrestleMania XX was the night that three former World Champions, The Rock, Goldberg and Brock Lesnar, all had their final WWE match. And in The Rock’s case, it was his final professional wrestling match ever.

The Rock, who already had himself mostly into movies at this point anyways, came back for one last match to help his former tag team partner Mick Foley battle the forces of Evolution, who were the young Randy Orton, the enforcer Batista and the legend Ric Flair. Despite The Rock’s help, Foley couldn’t stop Evolution and the duo (formerly known as the Rock ‘n’ Sock Connection) lost the match. The Rock never made an official announcement about that being his last match it just came to be that way. He made a couple sporadic appearances for WWE through the summer of 2004 before his contract with WWE lapsed and he officially became a full-time movie star. And after WrestleMania XXIV where he made a one-night stop to induct his father Rocky Johnson and grandfather “High Chief” Peter Maivia into the WWE Hall of Fame he hasn’t been seen since.

Later on in the same show, the two bulls of WWE, Brock Lesnar and Bill Goldberg, met to determine the age-old question of who’s bigger, badder, stronger. Unfortunately in the build-up to the match it was revealed that Goldberg had only signed a one-year contract with WWE and this match with Lesnar would be his last, as he was unhappy with the company and would not be re-signing. It seemed as if it would be a no-brainer for victory for Lesnar, until he too announced just weeks before the show that he would also be leaving World Wrestling Entertainment to pursue a professional football career, despite not playing competitive football since high school.

The entire plan for the match was turned into disarray and what was going to be a monumental power match was now turned into an afterthought. The retired Stone Cold Steve Austin was inserted into the match as the special referee to add some intrigue, and possibly to keep either departing man from doing anything “fishy.” WWE never publicly acknowledged either man’s departure, but the Internet-savvy wrestling fans and the jaded New York crowd were already aware that this was both men’s swan songs, and reacted in kind to the match.

Goldberg and Lesnar, to their credit, knew this would be their final matches and neither wanted to go full out for an unappreciative crowd and risk injuring one another. So the match, while terrible from a technical standpoint, is a masterpiece with the volume turned up to hear the crowd turn on both men and the match, and to hear both Goldberg and Lesnar mouth off to the fans, all the while the announce team is trying to hold the match together as a coherent piece of business. The match finally falls apart so bad that the announce team has no choice but to finally address the chants and admit that both men will be leaving for “greener” pastures.

In addition to the departures there some welcome debuts and returns that helped the show. The Undertaker, who had been off TV since Survivor Series ’03, made his grand return to the company under his old-school Dead Man guise. From May 2000 until Survivor Series ’03, The Undertaker had been playing his “American Badass” biker character, which gave him more of a vulnerable and human character, as opposed to the undead zombie that he had debut as so many years earlier. Many wondered whether the return to the Dead Man character would work or whether it would seem archaic. Not surprisingly the Dead Man has been a huge success, particularly in the part-time capacity that the now works. He disposed of his old rival, his “little brother” Kane, in a match that was more about spectacle than in-ring action.

John Cena also started his road to superstardom at WrestleMania. He was a product of WWE’s developmental territories that become a rapping anti-hero who the fans took to within a year of his debut. He continued to gain momentum and fan support and opened the show by beating The Big Show to win the United States Championship, his first WWE Title of any kind up to that point. The US Championship allowed Cena to continue to grow in the eyes of the company and the fans, which led to the mega-star he has become today.

A pair of high-quality in-ring matches that padded the show’s spectacle also supplemented WrestleMania XX. Chris Jericho and Christian met one-on-one in a rivalry dating back months. The two blonde Canadians had made a wager who could date a Diva first, with Jericho chasing Trish Stratus and Christian after Lita. The story continued so that the girls found out about the bet, but Trish and Jericho became an item regardless. The culmination saw Trish interfere, only to turn on Jericho and allow Christian to get the victory. Her turn to “evil Trish” instantly made her hotter than she already was and was a major boost to Christian’s career. Also Eddie Guerrero continued his improbable dream of being WWE Champion by defeating Kurt Angle in a fantastic one-on-one match. They played into both men’s athletic abilities, their great “sports-entertainment” skills and Eddie’s willingness to cheat and made for a forgotten classic.

The elephant of the room of WrestleMania XX however was the amazing main event triple threat match that saw Chris Benoit beat Shawn Michaels and reigning World Heavyweight Champion Triple H to win the Championship. For years Benoit was a big hero to legions of wrestling fans for his incredible in-ring skills and ability to not only make it look “real” inside the ring, but also make it look easy. But because he was fairly small by wrestling’s main event star standards (under 6 foot tall and about 220 lbs.) and lacked a certain charisma and look he never really broke out in the industry. WrestleMania XX was his shining moment. With that victory he joined his real-life best friend and fellow underappreciated “little guy” Eddie Guerrero as the two reigning World Champions in WWE at the time. The end of WrestleMania XX was a great image of Benoit and Guerrero celebrating mid-ring amidst a confetti shower, validating the plight of a lot of smaller stature wrestlers who never thought they would catch a main event break in the industry. It was a moment for the fans and for many of the wrestlers themselves.

Flash-forward six years later, Guerrero is dead due to heart failure and Benoit is dead after murdering his wife and son and then taking his own life in June 2007. Guerrero is looked upon fondly in the industry and revered for his accomplishments, while Benoit has all but been stricken from World Wrestling Entertainment records and is considered a big black eye on the industry. His accomplishments and past history is debated to this day by wrestling fans on whether he should be honored, disgraced or even remembered at all. I just now find it trivial to watch any match that he is in, which is really too bad as during his time he was one of the most entertaining wrestlers and was a part of many entertaining and revered matches that will no longer see the light of day for a long time, if ever again.

That night at WrestleMania XX was supposed to be a night of new beginnings and a night to welcome new stars to the scene, but ultimately it was a night to say goodbye to some of the company’s biggest stars. What was supposed to become one of WWE’s most fondly remembered nights has now become one of its most bittersweet.

Match Results:
– John Cena pinned The Big Show to win the United States Championship.
– Rob Van Dam & Booker T (c) beat La Resistance (Rene Dupree & Rob Conway), Garrison Cade & Mark Jindrak and Bubba Ray & D-Von Dudley in a Fatal Four Way match to retain the World Tag Team Championships.
Christian pinned Chris Jericho.
– Evolution (Randy Orton, Ric Flair & Batista) beat The Rock & Mick Foley in a handicap match.
– Torrie Wilson & Sable beat Stacy Keibler & Jackie Gayda in a Playboy Evening Gown match.
– Chavo Guerero won a Cruiserweight Open to retain the Cruiserweight Championship. Other participants included Ultimo Dragon, Shannon Moore, Jaime Noble, Funaki, Nunzio, Billy Kidman, Rey Mysterio, Tajiri and Akio.
– Goldberg pinned Brock Lesnar. Stone Cold Steve Austin was the special referee.
– Rikishi & Scotty 2 Hotty (c) beat The APA (Faarooq & Bradshaw), Doug & Danny Basham and The World’s Greatest Tag Team (Shelton Benjamin & Charlie Haas) in a Fatal Four Way match to retain the WWE Tag Team Championships.
– Victoria (c) beat Molly Holly in a Women’s Championship v. Hair Match.
– Eddie Guerrero (c) beat Kurt Angle to retain the WWE Championship.
– The Undertaker pinned Kane.
– Chris Benoit beat Triple H (c) & Shawn Michaels in a triple threat match to win the World Heavyweight Championship.

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